25 April 2007

women: arm yourselves

I find it interesting that the rhetoric accompanying abstinence-only educational and cultural phenomena endlessly discusses the need to protect women, and places the onus on women to protect themselves, while very rarely discussing the responsibility of men to remain pure, or at least to be sexually responsible. Abstinence-only educational efforts are predominantly aimed towards white, female adolescents. In addition to the educational curricula aimed at these girls, various cultural and commercial ventures are emerging to shepherd these girls along the straight and narrow. Advocates for chastity, in efforts to make abstinence appealing, are now telling young girls they have the power to choose freedom: to be free to choose abstinence despite living in an increasingly sexual culture. As author and journalist Judith Levine has pointed out, by using a word so strongly valued in U.S. society, “the idea of freedom, soaring like an aria over the ostinato of sexual peril, was a stroke of marketing brilliance.”

While abstinence is presented as a choice, it is also institutionalized as growing numbers of young girls are invited to the most recent trend in conservative sexuality: the purity pledge. Events and organizations that have young girls pledging their purity—which aim to make abstinence cool by pushing “chastity chic”—are quickly becoming the Christian Right’s main complement to abstinence-only education . The first major organization to popularize an abstinence-only-before-marriage pledge was True Love Waits. Founded in 1993 in Nashville Tennessee by youth minister Richard Ross, True Love Waits encourages youth to take a vow of premarital abstinence that reads: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day, until the day I enter a Biblical marriage relationship.”

Canadian writer and journalist Elizabeth Abbott notes the organization teaches that True Love is a God-given phenomenon that “attacks heterosexual couples,” and firmly asserts that “love intra-gender is neither true nor sacred.” It sanctions sex only after the couple has made its union permanent in a Biblically inspired ceremony. Although True Love waits is aimed at adolescents of both genders, all of the paraphernalia (such as dainty jewelry) is aimed towards young girls. Ladies, get yerselves some perty jewels to remind you to stay pure.

More explicitly designed to preserve the chastity of female adolescents are purity balls. Especially popular among evangelical Christians, purity balls also ask young girls to contractually pledge their purity until marriage. These balls, which are attended by daughters and their fathers, also incorporate fatherly protection into the vows. While the daughter lays a white rose in front of a cross, the father signs his own contract which says:

"I (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide, and pray over my daughter and my family as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come”

The creator of contemporary purity balls, Randy Wilson, explains that he identified a dearth in U.S. culture of sites for father-daughter relationships to flourish, and that the purity vow relationship established by the ball’s ceremony “allows the daughter to become a stronger person in her culture as she is bombarded with all the sexual images that are out there” (as quoted in the AFP). With the slogan “Because we cherish our daughters as regal princesses,” these balls function as a father-daughter prom where, after the pledge is completed, dads and daughters dance the night away in tuxedos and gowns . An article in Glamour reports that Wilson began the night by asking fathers “Are you ready to war for your daughters’ purity?” By using the rhetoric of warfare, Wilson’s statement reveals the ideological intent of the ball. With over 1400 balls in 2006, and double that expected in 2007, purity balls are growing as a site where fathers join the war to preserve their daughters’ chastity, and socially conservative sexual ideology at large. Given that those who take pledges break them 88% of the time (according to a study by Columbia University), accurate information about contraception should still be taught. Remember girls, it's up to us to protect ourselves, lest we end up like this. I am by no means against the promotion of abstinence, but I believe it constitutes a denial of human rights to teach misinformation about sexual health.

You can view some sample abstinence-only t-shirts (and some joke ones) here.

My friend Jessica referred me to a link about anti-rape condoms. Critics have called this device, which protects women against rapists by sinking plastic teeth into the man's member, "medieval". In the frequently asked questions section of the product's website, the question "Why must the responsibility shift to the woman?" is answered with:"Simply because your body is sacred and it is your legal and moral right to be safe. Nobody can make you safe except you. You do not have to secure your home, equally you do not have to secure your body, however it is better if you do so!"

Why is there so much pressure put on women and girls to prevent rape and consensual sex, and almost no focus the promotion of male sexual responsibility? Does anyone else see a problem with this?


Perry P. Perkins said...


While I don't agree with most of your comments, they are well and intelligently presented. We need more of this in our "profanity-laden" blogosphere.

It did seem strange to me that you spent much of the early article railing against the "onus" of responsibility being put on the woman when it comes to purity oaths, yet deemed it acceptable when it comes to the "anti-rape condoms."

Seems like a bit of a double standard.

Speaking of which, I think those are a great idea! Wish they made them in "guillotine" version. However, I did want to point out that both the manufacturer and you have misrepresented this product.

A "anti-rape" condom will not keep a woman from being raped, it will simply keep her from CONTINUING to be raped, as they require penetration to work.

Still think it's a great idea.


Dallas said...

Hi Perry,
I should clarify my thoughts, I guess. I was using the anti-rape condom as a concrete example of the onus being placed on women to protect themselves, to literally carry a device such as this in their purse or their body to "fight back" at a rapist. I am thoroughly creeped out by the anti-rape condom. It seems to me that these should be used only in dangerous contexts where women might not have the opportunity to say no, or the legal status to defend herself, as is the case in some countries.

As a friend of mine said in an email to me in regards to the site's suggestion to slipping to the washroom on a date to insert the device if feeling threatened: "Yeah, how about, if you're on a date and you feel like buddy is capable of raping you later, you excuse yourself, go to the washroom, and climb out the f**king window?! Why prepare yourself for what you think is an inevitable rape when you could just get the f* out?!"

I suppose I am just bothered by the idea that such a device might be in demand.

Erin said...

Excellent post Dallas, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Jess said...

Not to mention the fact that this anti-rape condom is marketed as a means of providing "incriminating evidence" against your *inevitable* rapist, so that it's "no longer your word against his!" The notion that contemporary rape culture can be turned on its heel by the invention and marketing of a condom with teeth is both absurd and insulting. It's only this easy, ladies! Keep this in you at all times and your rapist will be "temporarily disabled...much worse than a kick in the groin that self defence instructors teach women!" Hmmm...but what about that short skirt she was wearing? What about how she was 'asking for it'? Somehow the premeditated use of a 'condom' seems like it'd f**k up a woman's case, given the culture we live in.

Besides, if we're going to be arming women with protection against rape now that we're responsible for this shit too, I'd rather have a machete, thanks.

Emmett Macfarlane said...

Great post Dallas. This issue, or at least a related one, comes up in my research too.

Did you know the Supreme Court once upheld an 'extreme intoxication' defence for perpetrators of sexual assault? This was in 1994! It basically said that if men got soooo drunk that they might not remember what happened, then they could not be convicted of rape. (Fortunately, Parliament enacted a new law that the Court has since upheld).

I obviously take a law and order stand on this stuff, but you're certainly correct to point out society needs to put more onus on men...

etc'd said...

this post sparks to many dialogues in my brain and makes me ill to my stomache on so many levels

it immediately reminded me of the situation at KING'S COLLEGE when the residence staff memeber was fired based on fact that he was known to hand out condoms to the students in his residence who asked for them.

KINGS college, being a cathloic affiliate college of the university, felt he was violating the religious foundations of the college by handing out condoms.

it is this complete negligence of social reality that makes the sexual lives a lot young people uneducated and effectively, unsafe.